By Eric de Place
I'm a bit late on this, but it's still worth mentioning. Via the NY Times:
Traffic deaths in the United States declined last year, reaching the lowest level in more than a decade, the government reported Thursday. Some 41,059 people were killed in highway crashes, down by more than 1,600 from 2006. It was the fewest number of highway deaths in a year since 1994, when 40,716 people were killed.
You can't attribute the entirety of the decline to reduced driving: law enforcement and vehicle safety both play important roles. But driving less and slower driving matter a lot too. So while I've complained that the recent gas price spike is mostly bad news, this definitely qualified as a silver lining:
Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said the sluggish economy was likely a factor in the declines. He predicted that the combination of a slowing economy and gas prices approaching $4 a gallon throughout the U.S. could lead to further reductions in highway deaths in 2008. Many states have reported double-digit drops in fatalities during the first part of this year.
Nice to hear.
But still: does anyone else find it appalling that more than 40,000 people die on American roads every year? Every time I see these figures, I'm shocked.
A single year of driving yields 10 times as many American dead as five years of war in Iraq.
This article originally appeared on Sightline Daily.
While that death toll is really high, I wouldn't say its surprising. Sad, yes. But hurtling large hunks of metal at each other at great speeds is an inherently dangerous activity that we are just desensitized to on a mass scale. Give everyone in the U.S. pneumatic nail guns (maybe even 2 per person) and ask them to use them 30 minutes twice a day, all at the same time and you'd probably have some problems.
I also understand that high gas prices are a very serious problem for many people, but its also kind of a foregone conclusion. The way the country has developed as car-centric is unfortunate for the many people who, far down the economic totem pole, might have had to conform to the model, but gas is a limited commodity and it really has always been a matter of time before we begin to hit a point where that reality actually puts us in check. Bad for our economy that measures growth based of an unrealistic model of resource use, but probably necessary to make everyone wake up and realize that the system is a bit flawed.
It's a tragedy. Of course. And, almost totally preventable. But, the numbers shouldn't shock you.
In 2004, 650,000 died of heart disease and 550,000 died of cancer.
Both heart disease and cancer are largely (but not totally) preventable.
Diet halves deaths from heart disease
Poor diet ratchets up cancer risk
Sort of makes you scratch your head when you see how much time and money is put into aircraft safety, when your risk of dying in a plane crash is probably more akin to that of a lightning strike or shark attack.
40,000 road deaths a year does sound shocking.
Until you think that 4,000 children die EVERY SINGLE DAY from contaminated water!
( http://www.unicef.org/wes/index_25637.html )
4,000 - no kidding!
Kinda puts those cancer and heart disease stats in the shade too, doesn't it?
That said, 40,000 is a lot when you think it's only happening through sheer recklessness most of the time. Nothing to do with poverty, circumstance, upbringing, geography, none of the social justice problems. Just people making simple mistakes. Very costly mistakes.
Such a waste of life.
Steve N. Lee
author of eco-blog http://www.lionsledbysheep.com
and suspense thriller 'What if...?'